Human Resource Agency’s executive director fired for alleged misconduct (including use of agency van to attend GOP fundraiser)

The executive director of the Upper Cumberland Human Resource Agency, headquartered in Cookeville,  was fired Wednesday by a 14-12 vote of the organization’s board of directors, reports WSMV TV. The vote came after a closed-door meeting for a briefing on allegations against Luke Collings by the board’s attorney. A state comptroller’s audit is also underway.

The termination comes following a series of News 4 I-Team investigations, including how he used a public transit vehicle to attend a political event, how his hotel rooms and per diems were paid for to attend out of town meetings yet records indicate he did not attend and his time sheets that show he was working while we found him on trips and on vacation.

(The political event was last year’s state Republican Party’s annual fundraiser, the Statesman’s Dinner, in Nashville with Vice President Mike Pence as keynote speaker. Luke and other agency employees used a public transit van, normally used to take low-income residents in rural areas to doctors’ appointments and the like. WSMV’s previous report on that is HERE.)

After those stories, the board placed Collins on administrative leave with pay and hired an attorney to investigate the News4 I-Team’s findings.

As the closed-door meeting began at 9 a.m., former UCHRA employees stood in the hallway and waited.

“The only thing that I’m angry at is him,” said Linda Trammel, a former employee. “Because of the misuse of state and federal dollars.”

The private meeting lasted about an hour, and quickly afterward, UCHRA board member Ben Danner made the motion to terminate Collins.

One of Collins’s defenders was board member Mike Gannon, himself the subject of two News 4 I-Team investigations into how he had knowledge of threatening letters being sent to his female critics and for pocketing taxpayer dollars that critics say should have gone to his constituents.

Gannon said the board should wait until the Comptroller’s report is finalized on Collins and that he should receive a settlement.

After his termination, Collins told the board he was a Christian and harbored no hard ill feelings towards them.

Note: The agency’s website is HERE. As of Thursday morning, it still included a statement from Collins on his accomplishments. Excerpt:

In the past four years, UCHRA has undergone many changes. We have found ways to streamline departments and reduce expenses. We have been able to save money while still providing high levels of services. Through frequent communications with Board Members and local media, we have kept the public informed about our accomplishments and challenges. Our goal has been to be the most efficient and transparent HRA in the state and we believe we are achieving that goal. We extend our appreciation and gratitude for the support and dedication of our Board of Directors and Policy Council. We are also grateful for the support of the residents of the Upper Cumberland region, members of the General Assembly, the Congressional delegation, and employees of Local, State and Federal governments. We thank Governor Bill Haslam and his staff for their support as well.

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